It was that way with aviation/filmmaking scion-wunderkind Howard Hughes in the late '20s (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/11206.html). And so it was in 1930 with a person who had a significant impact on life in the 1920s, but is hardly remembered today.
His name was Horace Liveright, a moniker that sounds almost Dickensian or something Preston Sturges might have conjured up, a la Trudy Kockenlocker from his 1944 gem "The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek." But Liveright played a major role in the 1920s American literary scene -- even though he himself wasn't a writer.
In 1917, Liveright, a 31-year-old ad agency employee, co-founded a publishing firm called Modern Library, with intentions of reprinting modern classics of British and European authors, many of which had no American publishing house, in inexpensive editions. That was a success, and by the early 1920s the upstart company began publishing original works by American writers, including such relative newcomers as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
Liveright soon took sole control of the company and began publishing books on sex and other controversial topics the more staid, old-line New York publishing houses wouldn't touch. (Liveright was also Jewish, one of the first Jews to enter the WASP-dominated publishing world.) He published works from Sigmund Freud, Eugene O'Neill and Dorothy Parker and branched out into producing plays. Modern Library, by now only one facet of the Liveright publishing empire, was sold in 1925 for $200,000.
Meanwhile, Liveright was taking full advantage of the more relaxed social atmosphere of the 1920s. He hosted his share of bacchanalian parties, and reportedly was threatened at gunpoint for having an affair with that man's wife. (Liveright himself was married, divorcing in 1928.) At the same time, his employees were treated well, as his staff received annual bonuses and shared in the firm's profits.
In 1927 and '28, Liveright's company was making record profits, but without Modern Library, the firm was dependent solely upon best sellers. When Liveright couldn't find new successful writers in 1929, the house began to totter, and the October stock-market crash severely weakened the company. By mid-1930, Liveright, who had also lost plenty of money producing plays, relinquished control of the firm.
But he hoped he had an ace in the hole in his past library. The spectacular growth of talking pictures had led studios to demand stories, and book publishers -- many of whom, like Liveright, had been done in by the crash -- tried to take advantage by selling their story rights. So in July 1930, Liveright arrived in Hollywood and was hired by Paramount as a story researcher, which is how he came to know Lombard, who herself had joined the studio earlier in the year.
It's difficult to gauge the degree of the relationship between Liveright and Lombard, who was half his age; they never corresponded by letter, and any romantic trysts were done in the strictest confidence. One of the few people who may have been aware of what was going on was famed screenwriter Ben Hecht, whose works Liveright had published in the late 1920s. Hecht, shown below, would later write screenplays for two of Carole's most successful films, "Twentieth Century" and "Nothing Sacred":
Many years later, when papers of Liveright's were found that discussed his affection for an unnamed person at Paramount, Hecht identified her as Carole. He also said Liveright introduced Florenz Ziegfeld to Lombard when the Broadway impresario visited Hollywood. Lombard biographer Larry Swindell said Ziegfeld was captivated by Carole and wanted to make her a Follies girl, but that Lombard wasn't interested. What would be the final edition of the Ziegfeld Follies was staged in 1931, featuring the likes of Ruth Etting and the ill-fated Dorothy Dell (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/#48367).
Liveright, whose struggles had led him back to drinking heavily, spent a year at Paramount, which declined to renew his contract. He returned to New York and tried to stage a comeback in the publishing industry, but that didn't work. (Lombard apparently met him a final time on one of her trips to the east in the early thirties.) He married a New York actress, developed pneumonia in January 1933 -- the same year his old publishing firm would file for bankruptcy -- and died that September. He was only 46.
Writer Sherwood Anderson said of Liveright: "Horace was a gambler and if he believed in you would gamble on you. I have always thought, since the man's death, that too much emphasis has been put on the reckless splendor of the man rather than on his never-ending generosity and his real belief in men of talent."
Liveright's "reckless splendor" became the basis for a Hecht screenplay, "The Scoundrel," filmed at Paramount in 1935 with Noel Coward portraying a character somewhat based on Liveright. (Hecht and Charles MacArthur won an Oscar for best original story.) Anthony Mallare, a brilliant but amoral publisher, dies in a plane crash, and he is given a month on earth to find someone who will cry for him; otherwise, his soul will be restless for eternity. Here's a still of Coward from the film:
Ironically, Lombard -- who had to have been aware of the film's parallels to Liveright -- was offered a part, but declined. Perhaps it hit too close to home.